anne_mikolay_2012_120The phrase “when pigs fly” is a common response to many a ridiculous question and has long been used to describe the unlikelihood of a particular event.

Will Governor Christie and the NJEA find common ground? When pigs fly! Will New Jersey American Water reimburse Middletown Township residents for landscaping ruined during the recently imposed water restrictions? When pigs fly! Will airlines allow exotic pets on planes? When pigs fly! Wait...back up a second! The FAA and US Airways recently rendered this last question meaningless and in so doing forever cemented the bond between flying pigs and the absurd.

According to ABC News, on October 17, 2011, Charlotte, a 300 pound Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, flew first class on a US Airways Boeing 757 departing Philadelphia. Charlotte, a therapeutic companion pet for Maria Tirotta Andrews of Everett, Washington, allegedly relieves Ms. Andrews' stress and assists in managing Ms. Andrews' severe heart condition.

In response to understandable criticism, US Airways spokesman Jim Peters said, “US Airways and its personnel acted in a reasonable and thoughtful manner, based on a legitimate request to transport a qualified individual with a  disability and her service animal.”

Sounds good to me...I guess...but Emory Orto of Chicago and Kevin Smith of New Jersey might not agree.

In 2009, Mr. Orto was denied a seat on Southwest Airlines; Southwest claimed Mr. Orto's 350 pound girth would not fit in the airline's seats. In 2010, the same airline denied director Kevin Smith a seat on its Oakland to Burbank flight; Smith's overweight status was deemed a safety risk. If excessive weight is a major safety concern on airlines, why is a 300 pound pot-bellied pig acceptable but humans of the same weight are not? Surely human passengers who unfavorably tip the scales are better behaved (and better smelling) than swine.

Far be it from me, however, to question what imparts security to an individual or what qualifies as a service animal. While I derive great comfort from my tiny chihuahua, others have likened her to an unappealing rat. Even so, if my petite dog was classified as a service animal (service animals are not pets), current FAA specifications would permit her, with proper supporting documentation, in the cabin of any airline unless there was a compelling safety reason to bar her. Again, if weight was deemed a compelling safety concern in the case of Mr. Orto and Mr. Smith, why did the same not hold true for Charlotte, the hefty piggy?

That being said, US Airways is to be commended on its respectful, sensitive treatment of Ms. Tirotta and her service animal, but the FAA should impose uniform safety criteria in regard to weight requirements of its passengers, human or otherwise.

But that would make sense. And society will make sense...when pigs fly.